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SHEFFIELD — A rapid response fund set up this spring by four community organizations to assist those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has awarded more than $2 million since being established in mid-March.

Now, more than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, organizers of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County say, it's time to reflect on the effort — and plan the next steps.

"We're paused right now to look at and assess longer-term needs that are related to the pandemic," said Tim Wilmot, director of strategy, evaluation and learning for the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, one of the founding partners of the group. "We're going to continue to navigate that."

The fund was launched March 17 by Berkshire Taconic and the Berkshire United Way in partnership with the Northern Berkshire United Way and the Williamstown Community Chest. As of Aug. 3, it had given out 132 grants to 95 Berkshire nonprofits, according to a recently released report.

Additionally, in partnership with the fund, Berkshire Taconic and the United Way mobilized an additional $750,000 for grants that focused on essential frontline workers and vulnerable populations. Berkshire Taconic also provided an additional $250,000 by activating its emergency relief fund, Neighbor-to-Neighbor.

"We anticipate there being more need in the community, depending on what happens with the public health crisis, and where the state and federal government put their resources," added Candace Winkler, president and CEO of the Berkshire United Way. "I think philanthropy is best utilized to fund that gap. ... We feel like we're kind of looking at where we can lean in next."

Almost half the money raised by the fund — 44 percent — from more than 600 donors was awarded to Berkshire nonprofits that work with low-income families, according to the report. The rest of the money went to organizations that support children, communities of color, immigrants, senior citizens, and people with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The amounts donated by individuals, businesses and other county entities ranged in size from $10 to $250,000, Wilmot said.

Forty-six Berkshire agencies that address food insecurity received a combined $826,300, which was 41 percent of the total grants that were awarded. The money assisted 3,646 senior citizens, many of them homebound and isolated, and provided meals and care packages that were delivered to children while schools were closed. Other items distributed included diapers, masks and detergents.

"Food insecurity was one of the most pressing needs," Wilmot said. "Some of the [food] pantries discovered within just a few days that people were going hungry and being isolated either stuck in their apartments or on the streets. ... The food pantries that were in existence were able to stay open and stay supplied."

18 Degrees of Pittsfield, formerly Berkshire Children & Family Services, received $50,000 from the fund in two $25,000 increments in the spring and summer. The agency used the money to provide personal protective equipment for staffers and the children who received services at the organizations, and cleaning supplies to make sure all its facilities met the proper health and safety standards that were imposed by the pandemic.

"It was crucial for us to remain open," said Erin Sullivan, the organization's vice president of communications and donor relations, referring to the money.

"The Berkshire United Way and Berkshire Taconic really gathered people together to raise money very quickly," Sullivan said. "The disbursement process can sometimes take months, but the turnaround time was days, so we knew we could pay our staff and provide the supplies to keep the children in our care safe."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.


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